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In this discussion on the Hacker News forum, there is a debate about whether taking Aderall makes you less creative.

This science blog quotes the New Yorker magazine:

In the New Yorker Magazine of April 27, 2009, Margaret Talbot has an extensive article on the widespread use of these “neuroenhancing” drugs. She quotes two experts as having the same concern–that “drugs that heighten users’ focus might dampen their creativity.” One expert, Martha Farah, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, says “Cognitive psychologists have found that there is a trade-off between attentional focus and creativity. And there is some evidence that suggests that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative.”

I wonder if this is true.

Given Aderall is composed of of four amphetamine salts, is this the case with all amphetamines? All ADHD medications?

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the claim is might dampen their creativity not does or will. Not to mention creativity is not a measurable quantity. It is a subjective feeling. So the question would have to be "Do some people report feeling less creative while taking Aderall?" –  Chad Nov 9 '12 at 15:02
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@Chad generally these things are measured through proxies - e.g. one could measure how many creative artists use aderall vs. the general population. –  Ebenezer Sklivvze Nov 9 '12 at 22:05

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There is no conclusive evidence for or against amphetamine affecting creativity.

Martha Farah's comments are liklely based on a small study (linked here) she and colleagues ran in 18 participants. The tasks were brief puzzles (rather than longer meaningful tasks one might expect to be sensitive to drugs that enable prolonged focus). Results were fairly inconclusive. Their conclusion begins with:

Does cognitive enhancement with Adderall impair creativity? In this preliminary exploration of the issue, using four different tests of creative ability in healthy young adults, we found no evidence of a general impairment. On the contrary, Adderall enhanced performance on one test of convergent creative thought. For this test, the Embedded Figures Test, there was also a trend toward disproportionate enhancement of the lower-performing participants. For another test of convergent creative thought, the Remote Associates Test, Adderall also affected performance, although the direction of the effect depended on the creativity of the participant; the drug enhanced creativity for the lower-performing participants and impaired it for the higher-performing participants. This pattern has been noted in other studies of stimulants and cognition and is not unique to creative thought.

I would caution that when researchers find different patterns in subsets of the data that differ from the larger group, we should regard them as very preliminary (possible fishing around for results), especially if they didn't state they intended to do that sort of subset analysis from the beginning.

Aderall is indeed made of different amphetamine salts, but when amphetamine dissolves in the body, the amphetamine ion becomes separated from the salt ions. As a result, there is no real difference in the biological effects of different amphetamine salts.

Perhaps the most famous example of a high performing individual who used amphetamines and was extremely creative is mathematician Paul Erdos, who continued to coauthor papers in mathematical journals for over a decade after his death. We don't know if amphetamine made him more or less creative, but we do know that he believed they aided his productivity.

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ah psychology when will you stop making a fool out of yourself by using samples that are smaller then couple thousands. No wonder people think psychology is a pseudo science. Nevertheless very interesting and useful. If someone doesn't come up with a better research in 2 days I will mark your answer as best. –  Xitcod13 Nov 12 '12 at 10:04
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@Xitcod: To be fair, sample sizes don't need to be THAT large to detect strong effects. For example, you don't need much more than 18 participants to show consumption of 80g of alcohol has an effect on balance. –  Oddthinking Nov 12 '12 at 10:59
    
@Oddthinking yes you dont need large samples to demonstrate something but if its demonstrated in such a way you have no way of telling if there is some strong bias going on. You can show that cancer is cured by cigarettes with a sample of 18! (simply because of statistics) Its a powerful effect here is an entertaining video if you interested. youtube.com/watch?v=9R5OWh7luL4 (its long) (this effect is also magnified by the fact of which studdies actually get published there is a ted talk about that as well but i wont spam comment section with videos) –  Xitcod13 Nov 14 '12 at 6:18
    
@xitcod13: I'm afraid you lost me. I didn't want to spend 45 minutes watching Derren Brown doing a single magic trick so I didn't watch much of the show, but I have no idea how it is relevant. Note: While searching for the name of the scam I assume Brown was conducting - i.e. this one - I discovered a claim that Brown actually used this closely related version. –  Oddthinking Nov 14 '12 at 13:34
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I'd be interested in the response if you asked the good folk on stats.stackexchange.com to confirm these statements. :-) –  MattBagg Nov 14 '12 at 22:35

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